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The Murder of Harriet Freeborn

The Essex Standard Wednesday 22nd July 1857

Wednesday July 22, 1857


(Concluded from our last.)


Murder at Rivenhall.

Charles Finch, 26, labourer, was charged with the wilful murder of Harriet Freeborn, at Rivenhall.

Mr. PRENTICE and Mr. BRAMSTON were for the prosecution; Mr WOOLLETT and Mr. TAYLER for the prisoner.

Mr. PRENTICE, in stating the case for the prosecution, said the prisoner at the bar was indicted for the wilful murder of Harriet Freeborn, at Rivenhall; and the circumstances of the case were very short and simple. The deceased was in the service of a farmer, named Upson; and had only been in his service a few days when she received the injuries of which she afterwards died. It seemed the prisoner had known Harriet Freeborn for some little time, and just before the occurrence in question he became jealous of some young man in London, who he thought was fond of her: and a very short time before this occurrence took place he was heard to say that he was jealous, and that he 'meant to do for her'.

On Sunday, the 24th of May, the young woman left Mr. Upson's just before three o'clock, for the purpose of going to church. On her way the prisoner met her, and, in answer to some threat, she said, "Charles, you know I love you." The prisoner, with a razor, inflicted a wound just under her chin. This was a slight injury; but a few minutes afterwards he inflicted another wound, which severed her wind-pipe, the prisoner remarking that she was a dead woman. The young woman, who had been absent only ten minutes or quarter of an hour, managed to get to her master's house, and lived until the 26th of June following, when she died entirely of the injury she received at the hands of the prisoner. When taken into custody the prisoner made certain statements: he would not detail to them those statements; they would hear them from the different witnesses; but he was afraid, when they should have heard all the evidence he was about to lay before them, they would have very little doubt that the prisoner was guilty of this charge.

The following witnesses were then examined : Gordon Isaacs said - I live at Witham, and am in the service of Mr. Upson, of Rivenhall. Harriet Freeborn was in Mr. Upson's service and had been so for about four days. On Sunday afternoon about 3 o'clock, she left to go to church, and in about ten minutes returned with her hand up to her throat. She could not speak but beckoned me to her, and on going I found she had a large wound in her throat. She then told me that Charles Finch had done it. I assisted her to the house, and sent for Mr Tomkin.

Cross-examined by Mr. WOOLLETT. I have known the prisoner about 16 or 17 years; I did not know of his going to the Crimea but I had not seen him for three or four years; I do not think he was ever strange in his manner; I have known his mother as long as I have known him; I don't know that she was affected by fits; I have heard people say so.

John Rackshaw said —I am gardener to the Rev. Mr. Dalton, of Kelvedon. On Saturday, the 23rd of May last, I was working with the prisoner, and a conversation took place respecting the deceased. Prisoner said he would do for her: he was jealous of a young man in London.

By the Judge. He did not mention her by name, but I knew to whom he referred; I had seen them together on the previous Tuesday evening.

Examination continued. They were going towards Mr. Upson's. On Saturday prisoner told me he had a razor in his pocket on Tuesday evening.

Cross-examined. I am sure he said he would do for her, and had a razor in his pocket. I did not think him serious at the time; I thought it a very strange conversation. Prisoner had been to the Crimea, but I cannot say how long he had returned. I knew prisoner's father, but not his mother. I never knew that he had an attack of brain fever.

Charles Foster, labourer, said —On the 24th of May I went with others in search of prisoner, and found him standing up in a ditch. I afterwards saw prisoner with Police-constable Medley, who asked him where his jacket was, and prisoner said he had left it in the Great Wood, alongside the Horse Path. I went with another man named Jepp, and found the jacket lying close to the bank; there was some blood on the right sleeve, and a razor case in one of the pockets.

Cross-examined. I do not know the prisoner or his parents.

John Mayhew, a lad, said - On the evening of the 24th of May, between 8 and 9 o'clock, I went to the stile leading to the Church and found a razor covered with blood. It was open and quite wet. I gave the razor to Mr. Cheek, printer, of Witham.

Mr. R S Cheek said —I saw the last witness with the razor. There were a number of children around him, and I took the razor and gave it to Supt. Cooke.

Superintendent Cooke. I produce the razor given me by last witness.

John Butler, labourer, of Rivenhall, said —On the Sunday afternoon I picked up a cap about three or four yards from the stile leading to the Church. HIS LORDSHIP here said he thought it unnecessary to produce a number of circumstances to prove that prisoner was the murderer when his identity was not disputed.

Police-constable J. H. Medley. I apprehended the prisoner on Sunday, May the 24th, when he had no jacket or waistcoat on. I produce a jacked I received from the prisoner.

HIS LORDSHIP again intimated that it was unnecessary to produce this corroborative evidence.

Witness continued. On the night of the 24th of May Finch called me to his cell, and said, "That girl has been the ruin of me. I laid hold of her and gave her a cut; she then said, "Kiss me, Charles dear, you know I always loved you." which I did, and she kissed me." I then gave her another cut, and she fell down. I then went away." On the 30th of May Finch said to me, "I shall have 15 years' transportation or for life. I don't care a ———", "I wish I'd killed the ———, and then I should have known what I had got to stand to." 

Cross-examined. The last conversation was in the cell; he was singing at the time he called to me; I have known prisoner some time; he has been back from the Crimea about a year and a half; I never knew he had an attack of brain fever.

Police-constable Fox said —While I was on duty at the police station, Witham, prisoner asked me how the girl Freeborn was; I said I did not know. He then said "It was all her own fault: ——— her, I wish I'd killed her."

Mr. T. Marchant Tomkin, surgeon, of Witham, said - I saw deceased on the 24th of May at Mr. Upson's, and found her in a fainting state, with two large gashes in her throat. The top one was not so extensive as the lower one. I attended her till her death on the 26th of June. She died from inflammation of the windpipe, occasioned by the wounds inflicted. He made a post-mortem examination of the deceased's body. The viscera, brain and stomach were all perfectly healthy. On opening the throat I found the windpipe thickened and inflamed and matter upon the inner side. The cause of death was closing of the windpipe.

Cross-examined. I did not attend her all the time she was ill; Mr Varenne, of Kelvedon, saw her once or twice; she went out several times, and I accompanied her the first time; she did not take cold; I had hopes of her recovery, and did not think it dangerous for her to go out; a person who has had the windpipe cut through may go out in less than a fortnight; I have seen two or three cases in one of those instances the person recovered.

Re-examined. Proper care was taken of deceased.

HIS LORDSHIP. When the windpipe is cut through is the patient in danger?

Witness. In danger, certainly; but it does not necessarily follow that he should not recover.

His LORDSHIP. The the prospect of a cure or death you would say is about equal?

Witness. I should say so my Lord.

Mr. John Cook, assistant clerk to the magistrates at Witham, said - I was present when prisoner was examined on the 9th of June. Deceased was examined before the magistrates in the presence of the prisoner. I produce deceased's deposition taken by me on that occasion.

The deposition was then read by Mr. Straight, deputy clerk of arraigns, and was as follows:-

"I live at Kelvedon, in this county; on Sunday, the 24th of May last, I was in the service of Mr. Upson, a farmer, of Rivenhall. On the Sunday afternoon I left my master's house to go to church. I went as far as the stile leading to the church-path; when I got there Charles Finch came over the stile an caught hold of me suddenly, and cut my throat with a razor. I do not know whether he threw me down on whether I fell, but I was on the ground; he turned away, and I said, "You blackguard;" he came again and cut my windpipe in two, and said, "You're a dead woman, and I will be hung for you, don't I'm ———." I got up and walked to Mr. Upson's house. I had previously known the prisoner. When I first saw the prisoner he was sitting on the stile; he came upon me suddenly; I said, "You made me jump." he said, "Why?" I said, "Because I was making haste to church."

"Finch was then asked by the magistrates if he had any questions to put to her, and he replied, "She asked me what I was cutting it for, and I told her."

This being the case for the prosecution.

Mr WOOLLETT addressed he jury for the prisoner. He said of all the painful cases of murder ever brought into a public Court he thought there never was a more painful one. He asked them, in the language to which they were accustomed in courts of law, to "look upon the prisoner" -to remember that the crime was murder, and the punishment death. What had he to say for this unhappy man? That he committed this deed there could be no doubt; and that it would be idle for him to say that this was not the hand that took the life of this young woman. They had heard that he was jealous without any cause - that he was labouring under a mere delusion, an empty phantom of the brain; for there appeared to be no ground for what he must characterise as the wildest possible notion. It had not been proved that there was any young man in London of whom prisoner had any reason to be jealous. The young woman appeared to be well-conducted, and was on her way to attend religious duties; and having been at her master's house only about four days, it was not pretended to be said that she had been to London, or that any one had been down to see her. If he proved that alleged jealousy was without foundation it would go very far to show that the prisoner' intellect was disordered, and, in addition to that, the conversation said to have taken place with a man before this deed was committed, if correct, only went to show that he was afflicted with a tendency to insanity. Could they imagine a man in the full possession of his intellectual powers making such statements, the tendency of which, he must be aware, would be to furnish evidence of the most convincing nature against himself. The witnesses had been called purposely to prove these statements, so as to show that there was premeditation of the act on the part of the prisoner; yet on the very day succeeding that on which those threats were uttered the deed was done. He intreated them carefully to weigh these circumstances before they give a verdict of guilty - before they come to the conclusion that would consign this unhappy man to the gallows. They had heard that the prisoner had been to the Crimea; he had been there in his country's service; and he could only appeal to their knowledge of how much those men had suffered during the campaign - how many had come home with impaired intellect and shattered frames, and how many had endured the agonies of brain fever in the hospitals abroad. Having only been instructed the previous evening, he was not in a position to prove that prisoner himself had suffered in this manner, or that he had inherited, from his parents, a tendency towards insanity; but he put it to them upon the points he had mentioned whether they would not be justified in finding the prisoner not guilty, on the ground of insanity. If their decision was adverse he must implore his Lordship to allow the case to be made the subject of future investigation. Murders were of various kinds, and of late they had many lamentable instances, some of them showing how, from a fair in the link of circumstantial evidence, the guilty had gone unpunished. There was murder by poison, in which the perpetrator carried in his bosom for months the diabolical design, and with every artful device strove to bring his unsuspecting victim within his reach. There was the murder committed by a burglar for the sake of her sorry pelf which he could secure by the sacrifice of human life; and there was the revengeful murder committed upon the highway, in the broad daylight, for the sole purpose of satisfying a desire for vengeance. But there was also the order committed during insanity -as he averred the present case to be; and he again contended that all the circumstances tended to point out the unsoundness of the prisoner's mind. He deeply regretted his inability to produce witnesses; he must leave his case entirely in their hands. They could not comprehend the anxiety which he had experienced during the few hours he had had to prepare for the defence; and all that he had been able to do was watch closely the case for the prosecution, and lay before them thee observations, which he felt sure were deserving of their consideration. He had no other defence to offer, and he entreated them to consider the case well, and bear in mind that a human life was in the scale. It was painful under any circumstances to witness the departure of an immortal spirit but by far the most painful was it for that life to be sacrificed upon a scaffold. Whatever might be their decision, prisoner could do no more harm, for the verdict he asked for would cause him to be incarcerated during the remainder of his life, and that verdict he felt confident they would give if they carefully took into consideration the conduct of the prisoner both before and after the horrid deed.

The CHIEF BARON then proceeded to sum up the evidence, and observed that as the learned counsel for the defence had hinted at an acquittal on the ground of insanity, he thought it right to mention that, although he had only received instructions the previous evening, if he had thought fit to ask him that morning to postpone the inquiry in order that he might obtain witnesses, he (the Judge) should have listened to him with that respect to which such an application would have been entitled; and, if there had been laid before him an affidavit that such evidence could have been produced, he was possessed of the authority necessary to compel the attendance of witnesses. While he was a member of that Court it should never have the stigma attached to it that any evidence which could be proved (but the learned counsel had only talked about insanity) had been refused. If there any pretence that the prisoner had ever laboured under any disordered intellect, it was not for the counsel for the defence to neglect taking any steps to procure evidence, and then afterwards complain of its absence. He thought in a case of so serious a nature it would be right for him to read the whole of the evidence as it was given, and leave them to form their own conclusions from any point calculated to raise a doubt, if indeed there could be any uncertainty in the case. The learned judge then carefully read over the evidence, commenting upon it as he proceeded. With regard to the statement made by the prisoner to the witness Rackshaw, he said the prosecution were not bound to point out any one of whom prisoner had any just cause for jealousy; and the statements the counsel that it was mere empty delusion appeared to him to be a most gratuitous assumption. The statements made by the prisoner to the policemen, they must bear in mind, were made while the young woman was still alive, and before the case presented so serious an aspect as it did to-day; and they could very well understand a prisoner speaking in that manner when he felt that a milder punishment only awaited him. There was no reason for them to doubt that death was the consequence of the wounds inflicted; and so far prisoner was responsible for the act. The learned counsel for the defence appeared to suggest that the Secretary of State should take this matter into his consideration; but he begged to state that he as Judge, and they as Jurymen, had nothing whatsoever to do with that. Their duty, according to the oath which they had taken, was to act upon the facts proved before them in the evidence, or so much of it as they believed to be true. It was his solemn duty to call their attention to the evidence, and to tell them that they must be governed by facts not assumptions. The public had a deep interest in a case of life or death, and it consequently became their important duty to avoid acting on surmise. If that were not done the public safety would be jeopardised; but the law was that if any man committed such a crime as this he must be held responsible for it; and, if it were alleged in defence that he was disposed to insanity, it was necessary it should be proved by evidence. If, therefore, in this instance there had been any one who would have ventured to declare upon oath that the prisoner had ever shown the slightest aberration of intellect, the counsel for the defence was not without the means of summoning him before them. As it was, there was not a particle of evidence of the kind; and they were to say, in discharging their solemn duty, whether they really saw the slightest reason to believe that the prisoner was in any way irresponsible for his action. It now only remained for them to discharge their duty which belonged to them; if they considered it proved to their satisfaction, then their verdict would be guilty.

The Jury, shortly after 11 o'clock, retired to consider their verdict, and in a quarter of an hour returned into Court with a verdict of GUILTY.

Silence was then called for, for the sentence, and 

His LORDSHIP, having put on the black cap, said - Charles Finch, you have been found guilty of the murder of Harriet Freeborn - a young woman with whom you appear to have kept company, and between whom and yourself there is evidence of some sort of attachment or engagement subsisting. You appear to have entertained a jealous feeling, arising from a supposed preference of another person on her part. On the Tuesday before the wound was inflicted which caused her death, you were seen to be walking with her, and on that occasion you stated on the Saturday evening that you had a razor upon your person. On Saturday you declared to one of the witnesses that you had the razor on the Tuesday, and that you intended to inflict vengeance upon her in consequence of your jealousy, whether well or ill-founded. You met her as she was going to Church on Sunday, and you inflicted several wounds on her person. You were apprehended; you made declarations about her unmanly and wicked; eventually she died; you have been tried to-day for murder; and the Jury have most righteously found you guilty of the crime with which you have been charged. Apparently an act more wicked and uncalled for has seldom been the subject of inquiry in a Court of Justice. You best know whether there was any well-founded suspicion of any change in her sentiments towards you; but there are no circumstances that could possibly form any excuse for or even palliation of the foul and horrible deed of which you now stand convicted; and you are a lamentable instance, added unfortunately to many more that have been presented in criminal courts of the mischief, the results from allowing passion to become ungovernable, and yielding to the wicked suggestion of the vilest passions. It remains but for me to pass the sentence of the law; for you it remains to prepare for that which the law pronounces to be your doom, and as to which I can hold no hope that any change will take place. I trust you will make good use of the short remaining term of your life. It remains but to pronounce that which the law makes it my duty to state: the sentence is that you be taken to the place from whence you came, and thence to the place of execution, where you will be hanged till you are dead; and that your body be buried in the prison where you were last confined prior to your execution.

The prisoner, who had maintained an indifferent air during the trial, showed some emotion at the solemn address of the Judge, and on the sentence being pronounced he passed his hand over his eyes and left the dock.